The number of people claiming Universal Credit almost doubles in York

Photograph: J J Ellison on Wikipedia

The number of people claiming Universal Credit in York has nearly doubled since March.

The grim data from the Office for National Statistic shows an increase in the number of unemployed or low-income people claiming support – from 6,535 in March to 12,200 during the first full month of lockdown – April 9 to May 14.

“The Job Centre had never seen such unprecedented demand for the services for claiming Universal Credit,” said Liz Hutchinson, senior operations manager for the Department of Work and Pensions in York and North Yorkshire.

The figures show that in the first week after lockdown was announced, the number of claims for Universal Credit in York more than quadrupled – from 2,372 to 10,434.

Sudden surge

Tourism and hospitality jobs are being hit. Photograph: Michael Browning on Unsplash

Ms Hutchinson said the uncertainty meant the job centre saw a sudden surge in applications for support.

She said: “Just because these are Universal Credit claimants doesn’t mean that they have all lost their jobs, it supports people while they are in work. It could be that for some of those people their hours have reduced as a result of Covid 19.

“Back in February we were experiencing the highest levels of employment that the country had known since probably the 1980s.

“All of a sudden Covid hits and then we see claims growing.”

City of York Council has said initial estimates show there could be 15,000 job losses in York as a result of coronavirus, largely across retail and hospitality.

And young people and those aged over 50 could be most at risk, West Yorkshire Combined Authority has said.

Key worker roles

A watching brief on retail and tourism – Parliament Street was busy on the first day when shops reopened. Photograph: YorkMix

Ms Hutchinson said there are fewer job vacancies and added: “I think it’s fair to say graduates who would probably go into internships or even jobs – I think it’s going to be more difficult for them to find a job, without a shadow of a doubt.

“There are still jobs out there in key worker and critical roles. There are lots of jobs in security and in supermarkets and cleaning.

“Some people were welcoming a bit of a change of role.

“There might be more claimants at the moment because some people in those figures might be furloughed and may just be waiting for a time to go back to work.

“The bottom line is that we are still in the middle of a pandemic and we have got to be responsible.”

In November 2019 York had the lowest rate of people claiming unemployment benefits of any city in the country – and Ms Hutchinson said the city’s historic high rate of employment could aid recovery.

She said: “People will return to tourism and hospitality – we just have to see what that will look like.”

The Job Centre is currently closed but tailored support is available online.